With 2016 rules in flux, Sprint Cup drivers asking whether the 2015 changes are working


CONCORD, N.C. – The last time NASCAR’s garage warriors gathered at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there was bubbly chatter over the encouraging signs of a proposed rules package for the 2016 season.

Two months later, the Sprint Cup Series has returned to the 1.5-mile track with a decidedly different tone about where its cars are headed next season.

After unveiling a two-step process last year that would include another reduction in downforce for 2016, NASCAR has backed off and said it might leave the 2015 rules (which featured a drop of 125 horsepower and roughly 30 percent less downforce) in place next year. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said there was some pushback from teams worried about absorbing the costs of the rule changes.

After floating the idea of using the 2016 rules in Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race, NASCAR scrapped the plan last month. Several Goodyear tests of the proposed 2016 alignment were eliminated this week, leaving only an October test at Auto Club Speedway on the books to try next year’s rules.

A March 10 session at Charlotte was the most recent test of the intended rules for 2016. Kasey Kahne, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Alimrola and JJ Yeley. O’Donnell then said the goal was to develop ways to decrease corner speeds, which have spiked as much as 18 mph this season because drivers are on the throttle longer with reduced horsepower. That often decreases the opportunities for passing in the corners.

Kahne said Friday that he was pleased with how his No. 5 Chevrolet handled during the test.

“I like driving the car by myself way better than the car we have right now,” he said. “You could actually lift (off the accelerator) and move around on the track.

“It was kind of like it was back in 2004 or 2005 with the characteristics of the car and how it was handling. I was remembering things as I was driving. I was like, ‘Man, I used to have this feel.’ We don’t have that feel anymore with all the downforce we have.”

Kahne said, though, there were limits to how much could be learned about the new package in traffic with only four cars participating in the test. Truex said the tire also wasn’t optimum for judging the package.

“I think it was a good direction,” Truex said. “I just don’t think we had the right tire for the package. We didn’t have the right tire; we didn’t have enough cars. It was hard to gauge exactly what was better about it or what was worse about it.

“The four of us that were out there trying to race and see how the car ran in traffic, we didn’t get the feel that we thought we would with less downforce. The off-throttle time was a little bit more, but it seemed like the guy with clean air had more advantage than what we had with the 2015 rules. So, there was nothing clear. I wish we could have done it with more cars and had some more tires for options to really get to work on it because it had some things. The speeds were slower in the middle of the corner, which is what everybody is looking for. We just didn’t have the combination and the amount of guys to really put it to use.”

The feedback on the 2015 package has been a mixed bag, particularly on the 1.5-mile tracks that comprise the bulk of the schedule and where the rules are aimed at enhancing passing. In the four 1.5-mile races this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, green-flag passes dramatically have risen nearly 40 percent – 12,669 in 2015 vs. 9,172 at comparative events in 2014. Lead changes also are up slightly in those four races (91 in 2015 vs. 85 last year)

But the Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson (wins at Atlanta, Texas, Kansas) and Kevin Harvick (Las Vegas) have dominated the races, and several drivers have grumbled that an overreliance on aerodynamics still is hampering action and putting the leader at a distinct advantage. Friday’s Sprint Showdown at Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval featured segment winner Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer pulling away from the pack and cruising to easy wins.

“I absolutely believe the center-of-the-corner speeds are way too high,” Carl Edwards said last week at Kansas. “I feel like we should be out of the gas a lot more.

“I feel like our whole sport is based on guys racing stock cars around and manhandling the cars and being able to run close. I feel like we’ve gone farther and farther away from that because of all of the knowledge and engineering and the dependence on aero. I know NASCAR wants the same thing we all want. We want the best racing in the world and want it to be exciting, but I do fear we are getting to a point where the cars are so easy to drive and so dependent on clean air and going so fast and relying on engineering, that we are really losing the most fun part of it. I hope NASCAR continues to look at a much less aero-dependent package.”

Brad Keselowski said NASCAR’s quest to improve racing is perpetual.

“You have to keep a vision always,” the 2012 series champion said this week. “The racing can always be better. There’s no question about that. In that spirit, we should always keep working on it. To not work on it is to take a step backward because the teams will always iterate the cars to decrease the quality of competition. That’s our job. This sport requires a year-by-year reset to nullify the damage we do as teams to competition. It’s in itself ‘Spy Vs. Spy’ between the teams and NASCAR. It brings up an interesting discussion of how do you do that every year.

“It seems to me that in the five-and-a-half years I’ve spent in Sprint Cup, that discussion continues to get harder and harder every year with more and more disagreement about how to achieve a strong balance. There are certain things I would like to see for sure that I think can be achieved with cost but reasonable cost, but at this time there doesn’t appear to be enough collaboration to make that happen.’’

Clint Bowyer said the current corner speeds are “exactly opposite of what all the drivers were asking for and hoping for. … You need more off-throttle time to create a racing environment on the race track. If you’re wide open and you’re not lifting, I don’t know how you’re going to get around that car in front of you when they’re doing the same.”

NASCAR displays counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe car


NASCAR displayed the counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe‘s car on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, showing how the part did not correspond to what should have been in the car.

NASCAR found the issue at its R&D Center after last month’s Coca-Cola 600. The sanctioning body fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him for six races. NASCAR also docked Briscoe and the team 120 points and 25 playoff points for the L3 infraction.

“We want to be transparent on the penalties,” said Brad Moran, managing director of the Cup Series as he displayed the counterfeit part to media.

Moran displayed a a portion of the engine panel from Briscoe’s car. He noted the engine duct was counterfeit. He said the proper pieces are 3D printed at the R&D Center and Fiberworks Composites sells them and installs them for teams. Moran said the duct is “in the bottom of the car under the engine panel. It’s to help cool the driver. It was added prior to the first race. During testing … we realized we wanted to get heat out of the engine compartment, and that’s what this piece does.”

Moran noted that with the counterfeit part, “we can clearly see the textures are different (from the proper part).”

He displayed what officials call a gauge that determines if the duct fits the proper parameters. He showed it fitting a proper duct and not properly fitting in the counterfeit part.

“It was a part that was made, and it was made for whatever reason,” Moran said. “It was, I guess, put on by error, but it was on the vehicle. It is a piece that should not have been made in the first place, and it was spotted at our teardown at the R&D Center.”

Moran said the issue was found in a visual inspection of the part. NASCAR inspected it further and Moran said “there are certain little characteristics that are in (a proper piece)” that officials did not see in the one on Briscoe’s car. “The more we examined it, the more we realized that’s not a part they bought.”

Moran noted that while the penalties were severe, they could have been worse based on the rulebook.

“It was the low end of the L3,” Moran said. “It’s a real big hit for any team. If it continues, and we feel we are not where we need to be, unfortunately, it’s going to ramp up. We’re not going to stop.

“The deal with this car is it needs to be run without modifying. It costs teams a lot of money in development. All the owners agreed. We all agreed where we need to be to make this a successful program, and we’re not going to give up.”



Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Randall Burnett forming potent combination

Rick Hendrick hopes rough driving settles down after Chase Elliott suspension

Concussion-like symptoms sideline Noah Gragson

NASCAR implements safety changes after Talladega crash

Dr. Diandra: Brad Keselowski driving RFK Racing revival 

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway 

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


Cup and Xfinity teams will be on track Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.

Cup teams will practice and qualify for Sunday’s race. Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday on the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California.

Sonoma Raceway


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 75 degrees. Forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, a high of 71 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Saturday, June 10

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.